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Folk Epics Of Bharat

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Folk Epics Of Bharat
I am creating the topic to collect info about the various folk epics in various parts of Bharat, many of them are oral and have been transmitted across generations by bards and some are in danger of being lost with rapid urbanisation and globalisation.

In Andhra two main ones include Palnati Veerula Charitra and Kaatamaraju Katha. The former is very well known and many of the main characters are Velamas or Rajus, the latter is also well known and is especially popular with the Gollas (Yadavs) of AP, one another example is Kanyaka which is a folk story of the Komatis (Vaishya caste) in AP.

In Tamizhnadu, one I know is Annanmaar Kathai.

In the north there are numerous folk stories like Pabuji in Rajasthan and Alha Udal all over the north.

To start off here is an article by Subash Kak that mentions some of them:
One epic song tradition here uses the visual aid of painted scrolls (par or pad). Pabuji ki par is a ballad extolling Pabuji (Prabhuji, Lord, in Sanskrit), a 14-century hero. Beginning at dusk and ending with dawn, the singer (called Bhopa) sings to the accompaniment of  the ravanhatta fiddle using a bow with attached ghungru bells. He also shakes his feet sometimes and the ghungru bells tied to his ankles enhance the sound. His wife (Bhopi) also sings and sometimes dances; she also holds an oil lamp to the scrolls to illuminate the Pabuji images of the relevant episode. The story is too long to be told in a single sitting, but that does not matter because the idea is the darshan of Pabuji.

Pabuji is the son of a Rajput prince and an apsara. He has an older half-brother named Buro, and half-sisters, Sona and Pema. The mother leaves him soon after he is born and he is raised in his extended family.

In a quarrel over the spoils of a  hunt, Buro and the Khichis clash in which the Khichi father is killed. Pabuji and Buro offer to Jidrav Khichi their sister Pema in marriage to make peace. Jidrav Khichi agrees to the marriage but inwardly remains hostile

Pabuji travels to the Charan lady, Deval, to ask for the flying mare Kesar Kalami. Although Jidrav Khichi had also sought the mare, Deval gives her to Pabuji. Pabuji now discovers that the mare is his own mother in a new form and the two of them have a ride in the sky.

Pabuji attacks Mirza Khan, the wicked ruler of Patan and defeats him. He then travels to Pushkar where he is saved from drowning by Goga Chauhan. Grateful, he promises Goga Buro’s daughter Kelam in marriage. Goga and Kelam get married.

Pabuji has promised the newlyweds camels from Lanka. He travels there with his companions, engages Ravana in battle, and kills him. On the way back to give the she-camels to Kelam, he sees the princess Phulvanti, and they fall in love with each other. Soon, their wedding is agreed to by both families.

Later, in the middle of their wedding, he is informed that Deval’s cattle are being stolen by Jidrav Khichi. Since Pabuji had promised to protect Deval, he with Buro and their men attack Jidrav Khichi, defeating him. Now Khichi enlists the support of his powerful Bhati uncle, and the fresh forces help Khichi carry the day. Pabuji receives a blow to his head and he at once ascends in a palanquin to heaven. The rest of the men are also killed.

Informed of this catastrophe, Phulvanti and Buro’s wife Gahlotan decide to commit sati. Gahlotan is advanced in pregnancy, and before entering the flames she cuts open her belly and draws forth a male child, naming him Rupnath. The women are now dead, and Rupnath is sent to Gahlotan’s mother to be raised.

When Rupnath is older he hears the story of his origins from Deval. In revenge he attacks Jidrav Khichi and kills him. After this he retires from the world to become a sadhu.

Another Rajasthani epic describes the exploits of Devanarayan in about 15,000 verses and 335 songs. The epic singers commit the entire work to memory. Devanarayan is an incarnation of Vishnu who is able to avenge the death of his 24 uncles. The evil party is Raja Basak (Vasuki), the king of the serpents. The Devanarayan singers are Gujars, just like their patrons. It is also sung with a painted scroll (par), but in the rainy months singing with the par is forbidden.

Some characteristic instruments used in these performances are listed below. Although, they are characteristic of Rajasthan, similar instruments are used elsewhere in India.

The sarangi is a popular folk music instrument and is found in various forms in Rajasthan. The Langas use the ‘Sindhi sarangi’. It is made with four main wires. The bowing of these instruments is a skillful exercise, often supported by the sound of the ghungru bells that are tied to the bow to make the beat prominent. Another remarkable bowed instrument is the kamayacha of  the Manganiyars, with its big, circular resonator, that produces a deep, booming sound. The ektara is a single-string instrument, but it is mounted on the belly of a gourd attached to a body made of bamboo

The algoza is twin flutes  played together. The satara of the Langas has one long flute and another flute to provide the drone. The narh or nad is a flute into which the player whistles while at the same time gurgling a song in his throat or actually singing intermittently to haunting effect.

Bells of different kind, used for accompaniment, include the manjiras, small brass hemispheres that are struck against each other. The jhanit and the tala are different kinds of manjiras. A metal plate, the thali, is also commonly used. This is struck in various ways,  producing different kinds of tones and rhythms. Rhythmic music is also provided by the kartals, which are disc jinglers, struck against each other.

The different kinds of drums used include: the two-sided ones, the single-sided drums, the shallow-rimmed and single-faced. Single-faced drums are played singly or in pairs. The largest single conical drum is the bam of Bharatpur. The earthern pitcher, locally known as mataka, and the ghada have their mouth covered with skin.

A popular epic song form is the Man Bhatt Akhyana in which the storyteller accompanies himself on a large globular metal pot (man). The narrative consists of stories from the epics, the Puranas, and from everyday life.

The singer uses fingers with metal rings to slap rhythmically the shoulders of the man. Further accompaniment is provided by cymbals (jhanjh), barrel drum (pakhavaj), tabla, and harmonium.

The principal structural element is a verse unit called the kadavu. The singer sets each kadavu to well-known tunes, using repeating musical motifs. Each kadavu concludes with a couplet that summarizes the fragment told, and setting the stage for the next fragment.

The communities of Charanas and Bhats have been composing and reciting epic verses celebrating the exploits of their royal patrons. They use the raso (rasa or rasaka), a structure consisting of several poems that each tell a portion of the story, depict a scene, or speak in the voice of a character. The main raso forms are doha (couplet) and chhand (extended metre). A variant of the doha is the sorath. The number of syllables per line is the same in both forms; however, in doha the first half of the line is longer and the rhyme occurs at the end of the line, whereas in sorath the second half of the line is longer and the rhyme occurs in the middle. In chhand, the metrical structure has many forms.

The Ganga Plains
The epics here include the Alha, the Dhola, and the Lorik, which are long, complex stories of intrigue, magic, and battle. The instruments used for accompaniment include the dholak, the lute, and metal percussion.

Alha It is a ballad very popular in the Hindi region. It narrates the tales of two warrior brothers, Alha and Udal, who were in the service of Raja  Piramal of Mahoba. They show valour in several engagements  but Piramal, at the instigation of Prithviraj Chauhan, the king of Delhi, exiles them when they refuse to surrender their five flying horses to him. Alha and Udal join up with Jaichand, the king of Kannauj, who is Prithviraj’s enemy. There is further intrigue and Prithviraj turns on Mahoba. The city requests Alha and Udal to return to protect it, and they do so, defeating Prithviraj.

There is further trouble over the wedding of Prithviraj’s daughter Bela to her husband Brahma. Prithviraj prevents Brahma from reaching his wife (this mirrors Prithviraj’s own struggle with Jaichand), and Brahma is critically injured. The brothers are approached for help. They kill Bela’s brother Tahar, who had stabbed Brahma. Now Prithviraj arrives with his army, Brahma dies, Bela commits sati, and Udal dies as well. Only Alha survives, because he has the boon of immortality. He follows the great yogi Gorakhnath to the forest.

Alha’s singing style is very dynamic and full of heroic sentiment. Beginning with a prayer to 'devi' or goddess, renditions include various incidents from this very lengthy ballad. Styles of singing differ from region to region but it is usually sung in the monsoon months - the time villagers get after sowing grain in fields after the first monsoon showers. Villagers gather around the village chaupal and the singers, always men, take centrestage.  It is also sung for the groom’s processionists walking to the bride’s village, which could take several hours

Lorik-Chanda  Chandaini, or Lorik-Chanda, is the story of the princess Chanda who is married to an impotent husband. She falls in love with Lorik, who is already married. Lorik and Chanda elope and have many adventures in their travels. In due course, they  have a son who is named Chadrakar. Ultimately, when they return to their village, Chanda and Lorik’s wife fight furiously. Lorik is sad now and one day he disappears.

Traditional singers of Chandaini were from the Rawat community. Today, a large number of the performers are also from the Satnami community.  Originally, it was believed to have been sung without any instrumental accompaniments. Now, harmonium and tabla and other instruments are used.

Dhola This is a version of the famous Nala-Damayanti story. It is also called Nala Purana. Nala has many adventures in his youth. Later, the princess Damayanti chooses him in a svayamvara. This angers Indra and, under the baleful influence of Saturn, the newly-wedded couple has 12 years of troubles. Nala loses his kingdom and, to support himself, becomes an oil-presser’s servant. He works hard, the oil-presser thrives, and Nala again becomes wealthy. Much later, in a gambling match with Raja Budha, Nala wins the Raja’s daughter Maru for his son Dhola. Dhola and Maru are separated when Dhola forgets her, but ultimately they are reunited.

The  Dhola singers are from the poorer communities. The singer accompanies himself on the chikara, a two-stringed bowed instrument. Further support is provided by a drummer on the dholak and a chimta (steel tongs) player.

The North
Guga is a popular epic of the Punjab. It is another story in which Prithviraj Chauhan and  Gorakhnath are important figures.  Guga’s mother, Bachal, and her sister, Kachal, are both barren. Gorakhnath wishes to give Bachal some curds to drink to get pregnant but at that time Kachal is impersonating her sister and twins are born to her. Now Gorakhnath asks his disciple Janamejaya to sacrifice himself by dissolving in water. Bachal drinks this and she gets pregnant. Kajal has no milk in her breasts, so Bachal nurses the twins from one breast and Guga from another. Guga’s powers come from Gorakhnath, a disciple of Shiva, and he is considered to be an incarnation of Janamejaya of the Mahabharata.

There are many heroic exploits by Guga as he grows up. But, eventually, the twins ask for their share of the kingdom and, to force the issue, seek Prithviraj’s help, who arrives with his huge army, but the battle is a stalemate.

There are negotiations during which one of the twins spears Guga in the eye. In anger, Guga beheads the twins. When Bachal learns of the death of the twins, she is very sad because she treated the twins as her own sons. She banishes Guga for 12 years, during which period he lives with Gorakhnath.

After 12 years, Guga begins to visit his wife surreptitiously. Bachal gets to know and she begs Guga to return home. But he refuses saying that he will never show his face to her because she exiled him. He goes to Gorakhnath to ask him to open up the earth so that he could perform samadhi. That is what happens and the earth swallows him  and his blue stallion.

Guga is venerated as a supernatural hero in Punjab and neighbouring states. He is most celebrated during the rainy season. Large fairs are held at the Guga shrines. The mark of Guga is his blue horse. Blue flags represent his family whereas yellow flags are used to represent his maternal family. Guga singers are from the community of Bhagats, who accompany themselves with drum and sarangi.

North of the Punjab, the epic songs in Kashmir are sung by the Bhands, who are a community of traditional performers (Raina, 1999). The word bhand seems to be derived from the bhana of Bharata’s Natya Shastra, in which it is a drama form. The enactments include include mythological themes and masks and large puppets are also used.

The orchestrs includes the swarnai, dhol, nagara, and the thalij. The swarnai is larger in size than the better-known shehnai with a strong and metallic sound. It consists of a nai or wooden pipe, the barg, a reed, and a copper disc of the diameter of the pipe into which the barg is fitted. The Bhands dance to the tunes of specified mukams of Sufiana music (Kashmiri classical music). The performance, which includes dancing, acting, puppetry, acrobatic tricks, and music, begins in the evening with a ritual dance and continues till the early hours of the next day. The all-night performance deals with the heroic exploits of the goddess. The Akanandun is a Kashmiri epic song with some parallels to the Guga story. Here a barren queen conceives thanks to Gorakhnath who returns in 12 years to reclaim the boy.

The South
Blackburn (1989) lists the following major oral epics from the South:  Kordabbu from Karnataka; Kanyaka, Palnadu and Toubommalata from Andhra; Annanmar, Muttupattan and Tampimar from Tamil Nadu; and Teyyam of Kerala. These are in addition to the classical Sanskrit epic-based performances in all the four states.

I speak here only of the Kanyaka which is the epic of the Komati community of Andhra. This tale is believed to be derived from the Skanda Purana, the Komatis considering themselves to be the descendents of the soldiers who form part of the story. Written versions of the epic exist.

In the story, the king of the area sees Kanyaka who is the daughter of the leader of the Komati clan. The king sends word that he would like to marry Kanyaka and, should the father refuse, he would invade the city and abduct her.

The Komatis do not know what to do. Kanyaka takes charge and asks for a delay. Meanwhile, she and the other women decide to immolate themselves. The king’s spies are so moved that they join sides with the Komatis. At last, the king invades the town, but it is too late and the women are dead. The king, when he enters the city, also dies because of a curse placed on him by Kanyaka.

Before she dies, Kanyaka demands that the Komatis will follow certain rules: cross-cousin marriages will never be avoided, even when the boy or the girl is sick or ugly or poor; all Komati girls will carry her name; and the city will be a pilgrimage centre with Kanyaka as a goddess.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
Here is another article Ramana posted titled "Oral Epics of women of Dandakranya":

Here is a brief summary of some:
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->The Annanmar Katai or Story of the Brothers is a regional story that depicts three generations in a land-owning family that once ruled a substantial local territory. The heroes attempt to protect their lands from various external threats and undergo many trials and tests in the process. They are backed by the women of the family and aided by a variety of semi-magical animals. The epic encompasses an entire tapestry of smaller stories.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->

As for English translations for people interested:
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Elder Brother's Story ANNanmAr katai Part I & II
ANNanmAr katai tells the story of two brave KauNTar brothers of Coimbatore district with a sociological bias. The story which was popular orally has been compiled and edited with an English translation by Dr Brenda Beck.<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
The Epic of Palnadu by Gene H.Roghair
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->The Epic of Pabuji: A Study, Transcription and Translation. (book reviews)

University of Cambridge Oriental Publications 44. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. xiv+512 pages. Map, plates, figures, line drawings, appendices, glossary, bibliography, index. Cloth [pounds]42.50; ISBN 0-521-39536-4.

John Smith's book presents the Rajasthani text and English translation of the vernacular oral Epic of Pabuji. Pabuji is a medieval Rajput hero worshipped as a divinity in India, where the performance of this epic is regarded as at the same time an act of worship. This work is a wonderful gift to the academic world: it marks the start of Pabuji studies<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->The Rajasthani oral narrative of Devn¡r¡ya¸<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Male Madeshwara: A Kannada Oral Epic, as Sung by Hebbani Madayya and His Troupe By Hebbani Madayya,M1<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Annanmar Story     
Written by Dr. Sathy R. Ponnuswamy<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->Katamaraju Kathalu Vol-Ii (1978)<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->HOMER IN INDIA.
Publication Date: 20-NOV-06<!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
Excerpt from the article:
<!--QuoteBegin-->QUOTE<!--QuoteEBegin-->According to the Rohet aunts, the Dev Narayan epic--which, recited in full, could take almost a month of eight-hour, nightlong performances--had been written down only some thirty years ago. The person who did this was a distant neighbor and friend of the aunts, an elderly but feisty-sounding Rajasthani rani (or princess) named Laxmi Kumari Chundawat. I discovered that Laxmi Chundawat was still living in Jaipur, and we arranged to meet there, in her family's town house.

I found the old lady sitting on a cane chair on the veranda of an inner courtyard. She was a poised and intelligent octogenarian, whose fine bones were obscured by thick librarian glasses, which perched heavily on her nose and gave her expression a rather owlish gleam. She told me that she had been born in the family palace at Deogarh, from which her father had ruled a huge semi-desert principality. The purdah system--the seclusion of women--still operated then as much for Hindu aristocratic women as for Muslim ones, but in 1957 the Rani had shocked her family by emerging from the zanana and standing for the Rajasthan Assembly.

"The area where the story of Dev Narayan was set was in my father's principality and in my own constituency," she said. It was during her time in the assembly that she became interested in the epic, but she also became increasingly fearful that it was under threat from television and the cinema. "When I realized that the epic about him was beginning to die out," she added, "I determined to do something about it."

In the early nineteen-seventies, the Rani began inquiring if any of the local bhopas still knew the entire saga by heart. Many knew the outlines, she discovered, and some knew parts in detail, but none seemed to know the entire story. Eventually, however, she was directed to a village near Jaipur where an old gray-bearded bhopa named Lakshminarayan lived. She persuaded him to come to her house, along with another bhopa ("to encourage him"), while she went to Delhi and bought a tape recorder.

"He came to stay with me for ten or twelve weeks," she said. "He used to sing and I used to write. We did nothing else except this, six or seven hours at a time. It is astonishing that any individual could remember such a long work. In my printed edition, it takes six hundred and twenty-six pages.

"The bhopa told me he was only four years old when his father began to teach him to learn it by heart," the Rani continued. "Every day, he had to learn ten or twenty lines by rote. His father gave him buffalo milk so that his memory would improve.

"Anyway," she added, "I've arranged a performance of the Pabuji epic for you tonight. Mohan Bhopa is coming here at seven. So you can ask him all about it then." <!--QuoteEnd--><!--QuoteEEnd-->
By the banks of the Yamuna

Published in First City, Delhi, March 2005

Why? O why? O lord of Mathura!
Why do you want to go back to Gokul?

These lines are repeated in a soulful song sung by Shubha Mudgal in the film `Raincoat’. I it heard at a friend’s house. The tune was fantastic. The voice rich and earthy. But it was the lyrics that caught my attention. Traditional poetic Hindi. Full of metaphors. Deep in meaning.

Lord of Mathura or Mathura-nagar-pati of this song is Krishna. For millions of Hindus, Krishna is God incarnate. His story is told in the Bhagavata Purana, the chroncile of God. The chronicle refers to two Krishnas: one the prince amongst cowherds who lived in Gokul and Vrindavan, the other the cowherd amongst princes who lived in Mathura and Dwarka. The former is associated with childhood pranks, cows, music and romance. The latter with urban politics, horses, duty and war. The former is Radha Vallabha, the beloved of Radha. The latter is Partha-sarathi, Arjuna’s charioteer. Both Krishna’s are famous for their smiles. The former in mischief. The latter in compassion. For the former stirs the heart with longing. The latter bridles the head with discipline. Krishna of Gokul is surrounded by swooning milkmaids. Krishna of Mathura is surrounded by slaughtered kings.

The song is full of nostalgia. Krishna, who is lord of Mathura, is being questioned about his desire to return to Gokul? At the time of his birth, Krishna had been smuggled into Gokul in secret by his father intent on saving him from the murderous hands of his maternal uncle Kamsa who he was destined to kill. Krishna grew up in Gokul, and nearby Vrindavan, amongst simple folk, mostly cowherds and milkmaids, enjoying the countryside, playing pranks, stealing butter, playing the flute, herding cows, wooing girls and killing demons who threatened enchanting tranquillity of his home. Then, duty called. He was summoned to Mathura. He killed Kamsa and liberated the Yadavas from his tyranny. He went on to establish the city of Indraprastha for the Pandavas, all the while fighting or plotting against kings whose ambitions threatened social order.

The story goes that while leaving for Mathura, Krishna promises to return. But he gets so caught up worldly affairs in duties and responsibilities, in the politics of Mathura and Indraprastha, that he forgets his promise and moves on in life. The last time he meets Radha, he swears never to play the flute again. For she was the inspiration to his music. Radha waits for his return. For his music. But Krishna never comes back.

In the song, Krishna does come back. But it is too late. Radha is no more the beloved who challenged all norms when she ran through the woods at night to be with him. She has a home, a husband who loves her and children she cares for. Krishna’s return threatens her well being. And his.

Krishna here is every one of us who seeks a return to one’s childhood. A return to innocence. But a return to the past is bound to be painful. It opens up old wounds that one pretends has healed or that one has comfortably chosen to forget. That happens to the theme of the film `Raincoat’ starring Ajay Devgan and Aishwarya Rai.

All this happens on the banks of the Yamuna. Mathura, Gokul and Indraprastha (now called Delhi) stand on the banks of this river.

Yamuna also known as Kalindi is an essential ingredient of Krishna lore. This river is a recurring image in all stories of Krishna: she watched his father carry him across the river to Gokul, she watched him herd cows and fight demons in the pastures of Vrindavan, she was witness to the clandestine meetings between Krishna and Radha, she kept careful watch so that no one interrupted the Maha-Raas. She saw the milkmaids weep as he left to Mathura, pining for his return. She saw him fight the hordes of Jarasandha who burnt down the city of Mathura with the help of the Indo-Greek mercenary, Kalyavana. She saw his flight to Dwarka and his triumphant return in the company of the Pandavas and their common wife, Draupadi. She saw him organize the burning of the Khandava forest and the building of the magnificent city of Indraprastha. She heard Krishna’s discourse to Arjuna and his conch shell trumpet as he rode into the battlefield of Kurukshetra intent on bathing the earth, and her waters, with the blood of unworthy kings.

Yamuna is closely associated with Yami, the twin-sister of Yama, god of death, and with Yamini, the night. According to Rig Veda, Yama and Yami were the first mortal twins born of the sun-god. Since there was no one else, she suggested that they produce children together and populate the world. Yama was horrified at the suggestion. He preferred death to incest. He died leaving no offspring behind and so was trapped forever in the land of the dead. He became its ruler, maintaining an account of all deeds and misdeeds done in the land of the living, using the balance book to determine the circumstances of rebirth. Yami mourned for her brother who she would never see. She wept until the gods decided to turn her into Yamini, the goddess of the night, who bridges the despair of sunset with the hope of sunrise.

From Yami’s tears flowed the river Yamuna. Yama said that whosoever bathes in her on the second day of the waxing moon after Diwali will not have to enter the land of the dead; they will be liberated from the cycle of rebirths altogether. This day known as Bhai Dooj in North India is a ritual recognition of the love of brother for sister and an acknowledgement of their sorrowful parting following the marriage of one, an event which marks the end of childhood. On this day the brother pays a visit to his sister’s house, reminding her that she is not forgotten and that childhood memories are still fresh.

It is said after Hanuman set afire the city of Lanka, he buried his burning tail in the Himalayan snow to put out the flames. The snow melted to give rise to Yamuna. That is the why the peak next to Yamotri, the source of the Yamuna in the Himalayas, is known as Bandarpoonch or monkey’s tail. The ash made Yamuna’s waters dark.

Yamuna’s dark waters are often contrasted with the clear waters of her sister, the river Ganga. There are many tales to explain this.

After losing his first consort Sati killed herself by jumping in the fire-pit of the priest-king Daksha, Shiva lost all interest in worldly life. He held his wife’s corpse and wandered aimlessly in the world until Vishnu cut the corpse into tiny pieces. To rid himself of the sorrow, the gods requested Shiva to bathe in the river Yamuna. His sorrow scorched the river black. Later Shiva took another consort, Parvati, princess of the mountains. Once a demon called Raktabija terrorized the world. Every drop of his blood gave rise to his clone making it impossible for the gods to kill him. To help the gods, Parvati drank every drop of Raktabija’s blood. The blood darkened Parvati’s skin and she became known as Kali, the dark one. This form so terrified Shiva that he looked away. To regain his interest, the goddess bathed in the Yamuna and emerged as Gauri, the radiant one. Yamuna let the dark colour percolate in her being. Yamuna has thus been associated with accepting the sorrows and pollutions of the world. That is why her mood is always forlorn.

Yamuna is visualized as a mournful, melancholy, dark goddess riding a turtle quite, totally unlike her bubbly and cheerful sister Ganga whose waters are white and who rides a dolphin. She is the embodiment of Radha, pining for her lost beloved. It is said that when Indraprastha was built Yamuna did not flow by its side. She forced her way towards the city after an unfortunate encounter with Balarama.

Krishna’s brother Balarama, who was paying a visit to the area long after Krishna had moved to Dwarka, felt like bathing in the river. But he was too drunk and too tired to walk to the river. He ordered Yamuna to come to her. She refused. Enraged, Balarama, raised his plough and dragged the river-goddess towards him. Khushwant Singh, in his book Delhi narrates the folk version according to which Balarama dragged Yamuna by the hair and had his way with her. Her struggles gave rise to the many bends of the river around Delhi. The story according to some anthropologists is suggestive of canal irrigation by the Surasena tribe. Balarama with his plough was their god of agriculture while Krishna with his cows was their god of animal husbandry; together they were the gods of the primary economic activities of a civilization that according to archaeologists thrived as early as 600 BC.

After being dragged to Indraprastha, Yamuna begged Krishna to make her his wife. Without him, no one cared for her. Nobody respected her. As Kalindi, she became one of Krishna’s eight principal wives. But he left her to flow in Vraj while he ruled far away in the island city of Dwarka. Still she waits for him. Hoping that Dwarka-pati, the Mathura-Nagar-Pati, will come back to Gokul. She hopes for the magic of the moonlight. The romance of the flute. The secret dance of Radha and the milkmaids. It is said that no man may join this dance. Shiva wanted to join it. Arjuna wanted to join it. Yamuna asked them to bathe in her, shed their masculinity, become women and dance with Krishna accepting them, as she did, as their supreme lord.

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